El Dia de los Muertos

Last year, Boulder Locavore posted a most informative and moving post on El Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

She moved me so much that I started writing this post then, a year ago.


Many moons ago, some college friends and I traveled to Santa Fe for fall break in late October.  This was a hilarious chick road trip and we were visiting Santa Fe before it was as hip as it is today.

We found a sleepy little town and our only foodie destination was Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe (which had just recently opened.)

We also found the town decorated to the hilt with eerily smiling skeletons dressed as musicians and fancy ladies.  We were a little freaked out.   Coming from middle America and this being the late 1980s, we had neither  heard of El Dia de los Muertos nor had any ideas about the traditions behind it.   We found it quite morbid.

As I have learned more about Dia de los Muertos,  I can think of no better way to celebrate the lives of those we have loved and lost than with food.  I started thinking about food and food memories that revolve around some of my most loved and most missed family members.

Unc (pronounced unk) was my mother’s younger brother and our favorite uncle.   I have written before how Unc “ruined” homemade pizza night by putting onions on the pizza.   Today they are one of my favorite pizza toppings.    I have posted his recipe for sweet and spicy  pickles and I have mentioned how he was a locavore before his own time.

I also posted about the last meal I made for you.   Unc Chuck, you are missed.    I miss your zest for living life large, your opinions, your advice, your stories, and I really miss being a foodie with you.

Grandmother was Unc’s mother.   I know he learned some of his foodie ways from her.   We always called her Grandma too, but she would always sign her cards and letters to us as “Grandmother.”   My smart alec cousins, however, would call her “Granny Bunt” which she hated.

Grandmother, I have posted about your pickled green tomatoes, your donuts, your bread, and your potato salad as an homage to you and your kitchen.   I wish I could talk about the changes in public education with you and revisit your stories of teaching in a one-room school house during the Depression.   I miss you!

Grandad was married to Grandmother.   During the time that I was able to know him, he was never in the best of health.   Most of his dinners were eaten on a TV tray in front of the television.    I don’t think I ever saw him make anything in the kitchen but I do remember that he loved cottage cheese, cantaloupe, and tomato juice—all with lots of ground pepper.

Granddad, I miss the adult conversations that we never had.    I have a lot of your books and I would have loved to discuss them with you.

She lived close enough to us that we could ride our bikes to her house (even though it was over two miles on dirt roads) and there were always cookies in her cookie jar, often oatmeal raisin.   Every meal she cooked was accompanied by a dessert.   Everything was homemade.   One of my first foodie memories is packing up lunches to take to dad and Grandpa in the field.  Even these lunches were detailed and made with much love.

I miss playing Trivial Pursuit with you, doing crosswords, and discussing lots of things.    I have posted homages to you and your new potatoes and peas, your pea salad, your custard that you always made when we were sick, your special holiday fruit cake, your grape jelly, and plants from your garden.   I wish we could spend some time in the kitchen together.

Grandpa was married to Grandma and I don’t think he ever stepped foot in the kitchen to cook anything.   He was definitely old school.    My foodie memory of him includes bread and butter and peaches and cream.  Bread was always on the table and dessert was always a must, even if it was simple home-canned peaches and cream (which was sometimes canned milk like Milnot).

Grandpa, I miss your jokes and I miss going fishing with you.

Aunt Jaunita:
Aunt Jaunita was actually my great-aunt and a fabulous baker.   Her cinnamon rolls are legendary and my mother has been trying to master them ever since her own childhood.   I loved her sugar cookies and posted about them here.    Her house was always immaculate and she was always the proper lady.

Aunt Lila:
Aunt Lila was the quentiessential “crazy” aunt.   I mean that in the best way possible.   You know, everyone has one.   This is the aunt that you love to visit because she will let you do anything.   You want breakfast for dinner?   OK.    You want a coke with breakfast?   OK.   You have lots of secrets with her that you will never tell your parents.  🙂    Aunt Lila introduced us to a lot of new ingredients and flavors.    She took us to our first Asian restaurant—Shogun style, showed us how to cook on a real Hibachi that she brought back from Japan, and she brought shrimp creole to an otherwise pedestrian family dinner.      She was never afraid to experiment with food—making blue noodles to the horror of the women in the family.

You are the most recently departed and I am so sorry that your last days were hard.   I wish I had visited more.

Thank you for listening to my ramblings today.


I hope you take a moment to remember and celebrate your own memories.

I have posted lots of other recipes from or inspired from my grandmothers:

Grandmother’s Green Tomato Relish

Grandma’s Mashed Potatoes

Grandmother’s “President Johnson’s Chili Con Carne”

Clothesline Taffy

Grammy’s Banana Fritters

Great Grandma’s Sour Cream Cocoa Cake

Grammy’s Grape Pudding

Grandmother’s Ice Cream

Great Grandma’s Wild Grape Jelly

And speaking of grape jelly, please stop by Veronica’s Cornucopia and check out the bake sale.  You could bid on some very fine grape jelly (if I do say so myself) and support a most worthy cause!

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